Is your child on TikTok? Thoughts from a child therapist.

by | Jan 9, 2024 | Blog

IFC’s therapist, Tess Kihm was asked on to Chicago’s news radio, WBBM to share her expertise on the psychological effects of children being featured on social media. Listen or read along to find her advice!

WBBM: (12:15)
For kids growing up viral on the internet, even if not exposed as insensitively as the way Chris just mentioned. What are the potential psychological effects? I spoke with a licensed social worker and pediatric mental health therapist, Tess Kihm. She works with parents, teens and kids, IFC counseling in Chicago. 

IFC: (12:34)
It depends on the parent and how they’re running their account. So I think there’s multiple ways this could go. I would say if the parent is really sharing all the instances out and outs of their child’s life, that includes like if they are filming the times where the kid is having a hard time, I would say that can really affect a kid’s sense of self in a very serious way. So if the parent is posting videos of them disciplining their child and that’s being shared around the internet, that can increase a lot of feelings of shame and embarrassment for that child. So I would say they might have lower self-esteem. They might be afraid to try new things. They might feel like they’re bad. Another thing that I think is also can be harmful if parents are so focused on their own, like Instagram or social media aesthetic and having their child fit into that, right? So if the focus is on, this is my aesthetic and this is my box and you’re my child. So you have to fit into that. And if they’re putting pressure on that kid in that way, that can also really hinder their development of self. 

WBBM: (13:45)
Oftentimes parents of these channels ask their children if they want to be involved in the content, but I wanted to know if children not teens have the developmental capacity to know what they are consenting to. 

IFC: (13:58)
I would say not fully at that stage of brain development. I do not think that they can fully grasp the, like, what it really means to be on social media and to have that level of sight on their family and themselves, right? So I don’t necessarily think that that child can fully comprehend or fully give consent. And so really I think it’s on the parents of like, yes, those conversations are really important. Like that’s wonderful that those parents are talking to their kids and asking them for permission. And at the same time knowing that that child doesn’t have that capacity to fully give that consent. So like how can they really protect them? 

WBBM: (14:39)
So what are the healthy ways a parent could approach raising their kid online while not damaging their future? 

IFC: (14:44)
I would encourage all families that if they are sharing their kids’ lives online, to always keep on having conversations, circling back with their partners, with their kids too. And also always respecting their kids’ boundaries that if their kid is not comfortable with them, posting something, respecting that and respecting their privacy and their autonomy in that. And just knowing that, you know, there’s a lot that is out of their control. So if they are posting that, they have to have that understanding of that this is a huge wide world of the internet and things can known in a lot of different ways. 

WBBM: (15:24)
And while sharing intimate information online can be damaging on many levels, it would be remiss of me not to mention the other potential threats of sharing your children online. And you don’t know who is watching. Here’s Chris again, 

Quit Clicking Kids: (15:39)
One of the, one of the promising trends that I’ve seen, right? This is not all doom and gloom. There’s a lot of promising things happening. A lot more parents now, I think following the increased public attention on this issue, a lot of parents are having this aha moment and they’re, they’re sharing their children less online, or if they do share them, they won’t share their face, they won’t use their real name. Things like that. That makes me happy to see that a lot of parents are sort of now thinking more critically about the things that they’re sharing online, especially when it concerns their children. But the side effect to that is that a lot of these channels where the parents are pulling back, they will get commenters who feel entitled to watch their children grow up there. There will be commenters who are saying, why aren’t you posting your children anymore? 

Why can’t we see them? And I think for some people that doesn’t immediately raise alarm bells. But I think if you were to extrapolate that into a real world context where you had a next door neighbor who was saying similar things, right? Like, oh, I used to be able to watch your children playing from my bedroom window. Why can’t I see them anymore? Do you, are you still taking them to the same school? Because I noticed that you’re not going the same direction in the mornings. We would feel very different. I think about that level of investment from someone else in our children’s life. When you’re online and you’re commenting on something, there is that artificial distance there. But the thing is, anonymity goes both ways. And you, you can’t know where that commenter is commenting from because they could be your next door neighbor. There’s always that possibility that that person who’s commenting is much closer than you think they are. 

WBBM: (17:14)
Threats on the internet exist, but parents aren’t necessarily trying to put their kids in harm’s way. The era of social media is relatively new. So the modern parent now has to learn something that their parents never had to deal with. Online safety. Here’s Tess, 

IFC: (17:30)
We don’t wanna shame anybody. Right? And that’s including families online that we want to support people because shame is so, so isolating. So I would give that like psychoeducation, right? That’s a huge part of therapy. We’re providing parents with that information on what stage of development their kid is in. So really explaining that to them, right? And telling them on the internet, you, when you’re sharing anything, you are relinquishing a lot of control over who is seeing it, who is commenting, who is sharing it with others, because it’s not just about them at that point. It’s about their kids and their lives and their healthy development. So I have that conversation and then, you know, check in with them on what is their comfort level, how can they best support their kids? Right? And maybe that means having a separate account that’s private, where they can show all those moments just to the, their loved ones and their friends and if they have a public account, making it more curated and really, really being mindful of the safety of their children. 

WBBM: (18:38)
After all, social media is popular for a reason. It can be a community space for people to make friends, share big moments with loved ones and watch content of other people’s lives that can help some feel less alone.  

IFC: (18:51)
Yeah. I I totally don’t think it’s like a, this is completely wrong sort of thing, right? It’s like how the families are doing it. I see a lot of these family lives as being educational, as building community and bringing people together, right? And it’s really about how are they doing that? And I think the, the best, like family vloggers are the ones who would also be successful if their kids weren’t shown on their social media. Right? I think that’s like a really good question to ask yourself if that is the situation you’re in is like, is my social media dependent on my kids? Is it exploiting their my children? Or are they just another addition to the content I’m sharing? Like, do, is there something else wider? 

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